In addition to openly sharing my prostate cancer journey, I decided to find ways to connect with and learn from men who are navigating a similar road. I looked for online and local groups of men who’ve survived prostate cancer. Since the pandemic has shut down most in-person meetings, I’ve found chat rooms and a few groups have virtual meetings.
So far, I’ve interacted with two groups. One is run by practicing physicians (all of whom are African American) and serves as an educational forum. The audience simply watches them have discussions and submits questions for them to answer during the meeting. That type of meeting didn’t meet my needs. The discussion on nutrition is interesting, but otherwise not a conversation I connected with.
The other group, The Reluctant Brotherhood, is a group of men who have lived with a diagnosis of prostate cancer and meet weekly via Zoom. I submitted my name with a request to join their meeting and was sent a reply within a few hours. The moderator sent me a message confirming that he’d received my request and that he would put me on the notification email list for the next meeting.
Wednesday evening I signed into the meeting and there were two other men there. Within 4-5 minutes we had 12 men, 10 of which had their video cameras on. All of them were clearly familiar and comfortable with each other. They chatted and bullshitted quite a bit before formally starting the meeting. Watching them made me smile. So far, this matched what I was looking to find.
The meeting had a general framework and a loose structure so the discussion flowed freely. Although there was a predetermined topic of discussion, they began by checking in with each person individually. The moderator called each individual and asked them to introduce themselves, briefly describe their prostate cancer journey, then tell us how they are doing and if they had anything on their mind and wanted additional time to discuss it. One by one, I “met” the men and heard how they’ve been dealing with prostate cancer. Some of the men had a relatively new diagnosis ( 1-2 yrs), others had been living with it for more than 10 years. Most reported having stable or undetectable disease, but two were not so fortunate, and one was caught in a loop of no answers and was at a loss of what to do next.
After introducing myself and describing my journey, those three men became the focus. During the discussions with these men, I was deeply moved and understood the importance of having a group like this. One discussion ended up being about education and helping him understand what was happening, his frustration and angst were markedly reduced. Another important conversation was that one of the men was almost out of treatment options and his cancer had spread. As I listened, I felt awkward and like a foreigner not knowing what to do, so I listened and observed. The other men listened intently and, without missing a beat, acknowledged his situation while simultaneously celebrated his life right now. I was witnessing (and experiencing) men openly facing their mortality and embracing one another. I gained a new appreciation for the insidiousness of the disease, the frailty, and the limits of our time together. Finally, I was inspired as I watched the group coalesce behind the man who was stuck in limbo and didn’t know how to proceed. They described how he can advocate for himself, why it’s important for him to seek additional medical and counseling resources. It was clear that knew he was not alone. I watched a sense of relief and renewed hope enter his face.
These guys were loving one another without pause. It was beautiful to witness.
Of course, I’m going to continue to participate in these meetings as frequently as possible. In addition to the beautiful connections that I described above, I note a few additional thoughts about the group below.
- These men created a “safe” space for each other. In my experience, men don’t take the time to do this. We exist as self-sufficient vulnerable-less beings for the bulk of our lives. In contrast, women tend to make time with special friends with the purpose of allowing one or more to just open up and unload their feelings into the group. They know that the environment is safe, so they can do it. Mental health benefits and emotional healing that can be experienced are important. We (the men) are missing out.
- Being the youngest person (by about 2 decades) was very disappointing to me. However, I felt privileged to have the opportunity to step into a world of connection earlier than I probably would had I not developed prostate cancer. Now, I have a better understanding of the power of shared vulnerability and empathy that can serve to connect any one of us regardless of our backgrounds or ideologies.
- Acknowledging death is not bad, nor should it be taboo. Living life truthfully allows us to more fully appreciate the joy and beauty of where we are and who we have in our lives right now. Many of the small “things” that serve as distractions seem to simply fall away as background noise.